Walking on a cloud today, folks. I think I might have finally gotten between this horse's ears :)
I usually ride every week, but I hadn't ridden the Mustang for three weeks when we went up to the ranch yesterday (been up there several times, but for "work", not "pleasure"). Got there and the round pen had been partially disassembled to make a hospital pen for an ailing horse. Oh well, I'll just tack him up & ride him :/
I *always* have a "goal" in mind before I ride this horse (the first time I rode him, the "goal" was simply to stay on him). Since then, the "goal" has usually been centered around teaching him something, or "getting" or "making" him do something (with at least some emphasis on myself "learning" how to do it). This time, my only goal was to *not* haul back on the reins, no matter what.
He doesn't always like to stand still to be mounted, I wound up disengaging his hind quarters & chasing his butt around in circles a few times each direction to settle him down. Got on him, took up contact & yep, he wanted to GO. I put his nose to the rail & side passed him 30-40 feet one direction, then back again. That settled him down enough that I could keep him at a medium trot without too much effort. I had vowed that I would not put a lot of pressure on the reins this time, I'd use some of the suggestions given here instead. I used short, gentle half halts with little more than contact on the bit to keep him from running off. At first, he would already be "stretched out" in a high trot by the time I applied the aid and it would take 3-4 half halts a few seconds apart before he would back down to the pace we had been moving. If he pushed on through, I would circle him, put his nose back on the rail & side pass him at least 20-30 feet & back before I allowed him forward motion again. This is how the first 30-40 minutes of our ride went, at which point I could feel when he began to stretch out, apply the aid and keep his speed down with 1-2 half halts & no more nose to the rail side passing.
At this point, he really had done some work and responded well so I took him to the center of the arena and we had some fun with the cones & barrels, then back on the rail for more speed control work. By this time, I was feeling when he was thinking about speeding up and it seldom took more than one gentle half halt to keep him at the speed that we were going. Yay! I would have marked this ride as a smashing success, but it gets better.
Every once in a while I stop him at the far end of the arena and just try to get him to calm down and stand on a loose rein. Of course, he's standing there looking at the rail, wondering if I'm going to make him side pass again so he's fairly happy to be still. About the 4th time I did this, he just blew out a heavy sigh and I felt his whole body relax under me. After patting his neck and mumbling sweet horsey things to him, I gave my inside rein a little twitch and almost in-perceptively nudged my seat for forward motion. He turned and...... are you ready for this? WALKED away!
I maintained *minimal* contact on the bit, barely enough to support it in his mouth and we walked all the way around the arena. The second time around, I dropped what little contact I had and only had to hint at a half halt a few times to keep him at the walk. On the third trip around, I let the reins hang *loose* and he continued to walk, 3 more times around.
By this time, I was positively *giddy*. I hung the reins over my saddle horn and stretched my arms straight out to the sides, then straight up over my head for several more circuits. When it finally dawned on me that I was steering him with my seat/legs, I turned him into the center of the arena and worked him around a few cones, with my hands still in the air. My trainer was amazed, the peanut gallery was hooting and I was *glowing* :)
We both made sooo much progress in this one 2-1/2 hour ride, can't wait to do it again :)